Dolly Shephard, Edwardian parachutist and aerial performer, in her parachuting costume c.1910. Despite a number of close calls, she survived an eight year career as Britain’s “Queen of the Air”.
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Dolly Shepherd (1887-1983), born as Elizabeth Shepherd, was a parachutist and fairground entertainer in the Edwardian era.
Dolly Shepherd was born in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, England, as Elizabeth Shepherd. At the age of 16, she got a job as a waitress at the Alexandra Palace in North London so that she could see the composer John Philip Sousa. She overheard two men discussing the loss of a target for an act in which they shot an apple off a girl’s head; she volunteered on the spot.
In 1905 she ascended on a trapeze slung below a hot-air balloon to a height of two to four-thousand feet before descending on a parachute. On one occasion both the balloon and the parachute malfunctioned, and she found herself rising to 15,000 feet. At this height, both the cold and lack of oxygen were threatening to make her lose her grip and fall to her death. Fortunately, the balloon returned to earth before it was too late. She was not so lucky in 1911 when she ascended with another girl.
The other girl’s parachute would not release, so she had to wrap her arms and legs around Dolly so that they could descend on the one parachute. The descent was of course much too fast, and Dolly was paralysed for several weeks. She nevertheless returned to her act and first flew again at Ashby-de-la-Zouch.
Dolly later married, (married name Elizabeth Sedgwick), but still
managed a flight with the Red Devils display team a few years before she
died at the age of 96.
" When the 'Chute Went Up: Adventures of a Pioneer Lady Parachutist" by Dolly Shepherd and Molly Sedgwick (Nov 1996)
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